Week 7 3— Navigators of Bureaucracy

A Tale Of Working in the Bureaucracy

It’s been a few weeks since my last blog post. Last week was vacation and the week before was a very busy week getting ready for vacation. Returning from vacation is always an interesting experience. It is busy in the sense that it takes time to get back up to speed and turn the “work” brain on. After a few days, it is like no vacation happened as you get back into the thick of the day to day pressures and urgent items that need to be addressed.

While this week involved the usual mix of craziness and dealing with fires that the average week throws my way, I had an enlightening conversation that spurned what I think will be a good topic to dive into. Through a wide ranging conversation the topic of “navigating” the bureaucracy came up within the context of government innovation. It’s a topic I’ve thought a lot about in the past few years and one that is both obviously required but hard to describe all at once.

I call the role “navigator”. It’s a role that doesn’t formally exist but it is one I think is crucial for government innovation to be successful. The navigator is someone who understands both the “old” and “new” worlds that can exist when government innovation is underway. They can understand the existing structures, governance, power interests and have enough savvy to know how to work the system to their advantage. At the same time, they know enough about the new system (e.g. innovation) in order to bridge the old world into the new world and create pathways for innovation to take root and flourish. It’s a delicate balance to navigate within both worlds. You are being asked to do something innovative which challenges the well established governance and process of the old world. As the savvy navigator, you know you can’t force the old system to do what you want because there are rules and power dynamics at play. Instead, you find a way to translate the “new innovation” into the language of the “old world” and find a way to get the job done.

The concept of a navigator role is not an easy one to describe. I’ve struggled to articulate it in words for this post. A navigator is a link to the vastly different realities which can exist simultaneously within a self contained ecosystem created by a large organization. They are able to bring emotional intelligence, empathy and collaboration to the forefront so innovative ideas thrive and succeed even when challenging the established processes and rules of the old world. At the same time, they are working with the old world to find ways to get innovation through within the constraints of the old world.

We can have a philosophical argument on the nature of rules and whether we should accept rules for what they are or constantly challenge them and change them. The navigator knows that demanding wide scale change is a long process. Irrational rules will always exist and will block innovation. The navigator doesn’t abandon the push to change rules but rather recognizes that constraints represent obstacles and that obstacles can be overcome in creative ways.

Straddling both words is exhausting but it is an essential role for successful government innovation. The navigator is a critical part of any government innovation team. They don’t need to be an ideas person, they don’t need to buy into every innovation that comes knocking but they need to have enough savvy to realize that defying the rules of the old world isn’t a path to successful innovation. Instead, they realize that some constraints are best dealt with through collaboration, negotiation and creativity. Single handily, we can’t change every rule, process or policy which inhibits our ability to deliver on whatever innovation we are trying to get done. The navigator becomes an essential part of the innovation ecosystem as they help a team of subject matter experts and innovators get their work done within the constraints of a system with a myriad of rules and process.

AI Demonstrator Projects (Regulatory Evaluation Platform, Rules as Code and Machine Readable Regulatory Impact Analysis Statement)

Regulatory Evaluation Platform: We held a workshop to define the “process map” for a peer review of an AI system. We invited participants from 5 different departments for a virtual workshop. Peer reviews are a fairly new process for those working on government AI systems. We have a much better idea of what is needed to be successful and how we might approach the peer review of an AI system. However, some lingering issues remain around how AI is governed, how peer reviewers are selected and how the results of the peer review are shared.

For the Regulatory Evaluation Platform itself, we have started a project review and lessons learned exercise. We are approaching the end of the project so it is important we focus on the “learning” part of our demonstration projects. We ran into some problems (e.g. data) but the project review should give us a clear indication of what comes next for the Regulatory Evaluation Platform project.

Rules as Code: We have more clarity for our next Rules as Code project. We plan to start in early 2021. We have also been talking with another part of government and are providing technical advice and support for their Rules as Code project. It’s exciting to know there are multiple Rules as Code projects in the Government of Canada!

Machine Readable Regulatory Impact Analysis Statement: We’ve had a few false starts with this project due to challenges defining requirements and needs. We have a plan to get the project back on track. It’s becoming clear that conversion of such a large unstructured dataset will be difficult but we are hopeful we can “prove” it is possible.

Week 73 weeknotes are done. I hope everyone has a great week!